Free Emotional Intelligence Course

Helpguide / Harvard Collaboration

www.Helpguide.org

Reprinted with permission for personal or non-profit use. Visit www.helpguide.org to see the article with links to related articles.  © Helpguide.org. All rights reserved.

This material is for information and support; not a substitute for professional advice.

Relationship Help

Advice for Building Relationships that are Healthy, Happy and Satisfying

Building Great Relationships with Emotional Intelligence

A strong, healthy relationship can be one of the best supports in your life. Good relationships improve all aspects of your life, strengthening your health, your mind, and your connections with others. However, if the relationship isn't working, it can also be a tremendous drain. Relationships are an investment. The more you put in, the more you can get back. These tips can help keep a healthy relationship strong, or repair trust and love in a relationship on the rocks.

How to strengthen your loving relationship

If you need help with dating and starting a relationship

See How to Find Lasting Love

Everyone’s relationship is unique, and people come together for many different reasons. But there are some things that good relationships have in common. Knowing the basic principles of healthy relationships helps keep them meaningful, fulfilling and exciting in both happy times and sad:

What makes a healthy love relationship?

  • Staying involved with each other. Some relationships get stuck in peaceful coexistence, but without truly relating to each other and working together. While it may seem stable on the surface, lack of involvement and communication increases distance. When you need to talk about something important, the connection and understanding may no longer be there.
  • Getting through conflict. Some couples talk things out quietly, while others may raise their voices and passionately disagree. The key in a strong relationship, though, is not to be fearful of conflict. You need to be safe to express things that bother you without fear of retaliation, and be able to resolve conflict without humiliation, degradation or insisting on being right.
  • Keeping outside relationships and interests alive. No one person can meet all of our needs, and expecting too much from someone can put a lot of unhealthy pressure on a relationship. Having friends and outside interests not only strengthens your social network, but brings new insights and stimulation to the relationship, too.
  • Communicating. Honest, direct communication is a key part of any relationship. When both people feel comfortable expressing their needs, fears, and desires, trust and bonds are strengthened. Nonverbal cues—body language like eye contact, leaning forward or away, or touching someone’s arm—are critical to communication.

Relationship advice tip 1: Keep physical intimacy alive

Touch is a fundamental part of human existence. Studies on infants have shown the importance of regular, loving touch and holding on brain development. These benefits do not end in childhood. Life without physical contact with others is a lonely life indeed.

Keep physical intimacy aliveStudies have shown that affectionate touch actually boosts the body’s levels of oxytocin, a hormone that influences bonding and attachment. In a committed relationship between two adult partners, physical intercourse is often a cornerstone of the relationship. However, intercourse should not be the only method of physical intimacy in a relationship. Regular, affectionate touch—holding hands, hugging, or kissing—is equally important.

Be sensitive to what your partner likes. While touch is a key part of a healthy relationship, it’s important to take some time to find out what your partner really likes. Unwanted touching or inappropriate overtures can make the other person tense up and retreat—exactly what you don’t want.

Relationship advice tip 2: Spend quality time together

You probably have fond memories of when you were first dating your loved one. Everything may have seemed new and exciting, and you may have spent hours just chatting together or coming up with new, exciting things to try. However, as time goes by, children, demanding jobs, long commutes, different hobbies and other obligations can make it hard to find time together. It’s critical for your relationship, though, to make time for yourselves. If you don’t have quality time, communication and understanding start to erode.

Simple ways to connect as a couple and rekindle love

  • Commit to spending quality time together on a regular basis. Even during very busy and stressful times, a few minutes of really sharing and connecting can help keep bonds strong.
  • Find something that you enjoy doing together, whether it is a shared hobby, dance class, daily walk, or sitting over a cup of coffee in the morning.
  • Try something new together. Doing new things together can be a fun way to connect and keep things interesting. It can be as simple as trying a new restaurant or going on a day trip to a place you’ve never been before.

Couples are often more fun and playful in the early stages of a relationship. However, this playful attitude can sometimes be forgotten as life challenges or old resentments start getting in the way. Keeping a sense of humor can actually help you get through tough times, reduce stress, and work through issues more easily.

Focus on having fun together

  • Think about playful ways to surprise your partner, like bringing flowers or a favorite movie home unexpectedly.
  • Learn from the “play experts” together. Playing with pets or small children can really help you reconnect with your playful side. If it’s something you do together, you also learn more about your partner and how he or she likes to have fun.
  • Make a habit of laughing together whenever you can. Most situations are not as bleak as they appear to be when you approach them with humor.

Learning how to play again

A little humor and playful interaction can go a long way in relieving tense situations and helping you see the brighter side. If you’re feeling a little rusty, learn more about how playful communication can improve your relationship, and for fun ways to practice this skill.

Relationship advice tip 3: Never stop communicating

Good communication is a fundamental part of a healthy relationship. When people stop communicating well, they stop relating well, and times of change or stress can really bring out disconnect. As long as you are communicating, you can work through whatever problem you’re facing.

Learn your partner’s emotional cues

Never stop communicatingEach of us is a little different in how we best receive information. Some people might respond better to sight, sound, or touch. Your partner’s responses may be different from yours. Take some time to learn your partner’s cues, and be sure to communicate your own as well. For example, one person might find a brief massage after a stressful day a loving mode of communication—while another might just want to talk over a hot cup of tea.

So much of our communication is transmitted by what we don’t say. Nonverbal cues—such as eye contact, leaning forward or away, or touching someone’s arm—communicate much more than words. For a relationship to work well, each person has to be receptive to sending and receiving nonverbal cues. Learning to understand this “body language” can help you better understand what your partner is trying to say. Think about what you are transmitting as well, and if what you say matches what you feel. If you say “I’m fine,” but you clench your teeth and look away, then your body is clearly signaling you are not.

Question your assumptions

If you’ve known each other for a while, you may assume that your partner has a pretty good idea of what you are thinking and what you need. However, your partner is not a mind reader. While your partner may have some idea, it is much healthier to directly express your needs to avoid any confusion. Your partner may sense something, but it might not be what you need. What’s more, people change, and what you needed and wanted five years ago, for example, may be very different now. Getting in the habit of expressing your needs helps you weather difficult times, which otherwise may lead to increasing resentment, misunderstanding, and anger.

Use your senses to keep stress in check

If you’re not calm and focused, you won’t be able to communicate effectively. The best way to reduce stress quickly and reliably is through the senses. But each person responds differently to sensory input, so you need to find things that are soothing to you.

Relationship advice tip 4: Healthy relationships are built on give and take

If you expect to get what you want 100% of a time in a relationship, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Healthy relationships are built on compromise, and it takes work on each person’s part to make sure that there is a reasonable exchange.

Recognize what’s important to your partner

Knowing what is truly important to your partner can go a long way towards building goodwill and an atmosphere of compromise. On the flip side, it’s also important for your partner to recognize your wants and for you to state them clearly. Constantly compromising your needs for others' will build resentment and anger.

Don’t make “winning” your goal

If you approach your partner with the attitude that things have to be your way or else, it will be difficult to reach a compromise. Sometimes this attitude comes from not having your needs met while you were younger, or it could be from years of accumulated resentment building up in your current relationship. It’s all right to have strong convictions about something, but your partner deserves to be heard as well. You are more likely to get your needs met if you respect what your partner needs, and compromise when you can.

Learn how to respectfully resolve conflict

Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, but to keep a relationship strong, both people need to feel they’ve been heard. The goal is not to win but to resolve the conflict with respect and love.

  • Make sure you are fighting fair.
  • Don’t attack someone directly; use “I” statements to communicate how you feel.
  • Don’t drag old arguments into the mix.
  • Keep the focus on the issue at hand, and respect the other person.

Relationship advice tip 5: Expect ups and downs

It’s also important to recognize that there are ups and downs in every relationship. You won’t always be on the same page. Sometimes one partner may be struggling with an issue that stresses them, such as the death of a close family member. Other events, like job loss or severe health problems, can affect both partners and make it difficult to relate to each other. You might have different ideas of managing finances or raising children. Different people cope with stress differently, and misunderstanding can rapidly turn to frustration and anger.

Relationship advice for getting through life’s ups and downs

  • Don’t take out your problems on your partner. Life stresses can make us short tempered. If you are coping with a lot of stress, it might seem easier to snap at your partner. Fighting like this might initially feel like a release, but it slowly poisons your relationship. Find other ways to vent your anger and frustration.
  • Some problems are bigger than both of you. Trying to force a solution can cause even more problems. Every person works through problems and issues in his or her own way. Remember that you’re a team. Continuing to move forward together can get you through the rough spots.
  • Be open to change. Change is inevitable in life, and it will happen whether you go with it or fight it. Flexibility is essential to adapt to the change that is always taking place in any relationship, and it allows you to grow together through both the good times and the bad.
  • Don’t ignore problems. Whatever problems arise in a romantic relationship, it’s important to face them together as a couple. If an aspect of the relationship stops working, don’t simply ignore it, but instead address it with your partner. Things change, so respond to them together as they do.

Romantic relationships require ongoing attention

Many couples focus on their relationship only when there are specific, unavoidable problems to overcome. Once the problems have been resolved they often switch their attention back to their careers, kids, or other interests. However, romantic relationships require ongoing attention and commitment for love to flourish. As long as the health of a romantic relationship remains important to you, it is going to require your attention and effort.

If you need more relationship help and advice

Sometimes problems in a relationship may seem too complex or overwhelming for a couple to handle on their own. In that case, it’s important to reach out together for help. There are a number of options available, including:

  • Couples counseling. It’s a big investment, and time, energy, focus and commitment are needed from both people to make a difference, but you might consider couples or marriage counseling to resolve your differences. Both parties need to be willing and able to honestly communicate what he or she needs, face the issues that arise in counseling, and then make the necessary changes. It’s important also that both people feel comfortable with the counselor.
  • Spiritual advice. Some couples benefit from spiritual advice from a religious figure such as a pastor or rabbi. This tends to work best if both persons have similar convictions of faith and have a good relationship with the spiritual advisor.
  • Emotional Intelligence building. Try using Helpguide's Emotional Intelligence Toolkit, a free utility for building emotional health and emotional intelligence. This in-depth course provides articles, videos, and audio meditations designed to help you put the skills of emotional intelligence and communication into practice.
  • Individual therapy. Sometimes one person may need specialized help. For example, someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one may need counseling to help him or her process the grief. If your loved one needs help, don’t feel like you are a failure for not providing him or her everything he or she needs. No one can fulfill everyone’s needs, and getting the right help can make a tremendous difference in your relationship.
Bring Your Life Into Balance Feeling Loved

Related Articles

Relationship Help

How to Find Lasting Love – Tips on dating that can help you to find someone who is a good fit and build a love worth keeping.

Meet New People and Make Good Friends

How to Make Friends – Whatever your age or circumstances, you can learn to make new friends and build friendships that will provide comfort and joy in life.

Successful Relationships

Successful Relationships – How humor, laughter and play can be powerful tools in building successful relationships.

Solving Relationship Problems

Anger Management

Anger Management – Effective anger management tools can help you express feelings in healthier ways and keep your temper from hijacking your relationships.

Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict Resolution – When handled positively, conflict can provide an opportunity to strengthen the bond between two people.

Effective Communication

Effective Communication – While communication may seem simple, there are skills you can learn to avoid misunderstandings and improve your relationship with your spouse, family, or coworkers.

Nonverbal Communication Skills

Nonverbal Communication Skills – As the majority of the messages we send are nonverbal, it’s important to understand and use body language in a way that builds better relationships at home and work.

Attachment and Adult Relationships

Attachment and Adult Relationships – By learning about the attachment bond and how it affects you as an adult, you can build a healthier romantic relationship.

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: May 2014.

©Helpguide.org. All rights reserved. This reprint is for information only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Helpguide.org is an ad-free non-profit resource for supporting better mental health and lifestyle choices for adults and children.

Helpguide.org